Those who call themselves Marxist can be as diverse in thinking as the many thousands of Christian denominations in this World. Somewhere along these lines one is bound to come across the word “Market Socialism“. Market Socialists tend to believe that the Nordic Countries and Titoite Yugoslavia have “proved socialism worked”(whatever this means) and for some of them that post-Mao China still(!) serves as a healthy socialist society. How one defines “work” is an entirely different matter but for argument’s sake let us suppose the person also calls themselves a Communist. That this person desires a classless and stateless society and see’s socialism as a transitional stage for this. In other words they are in agreement with a Dictatorship of the Proletariat. But what is this?
What is Socialism? In this manner we shall regard socialism as being synonymous with the Dictatorship of the Proletariat.
Balibar provides two of the most common answers people give to this question; that it is the “collective property of the means of production”, in other words state ownership of the means of production or workers councils, it doesn’t matter; what matters is how you personally define it. The other answer people will give is that it is the “political power of the working people”. As these are very vague answers Balibar believes that they are insufficient at explaining what socialism actually is. The main reason being that these answers do not take into account the question of class struggle and it’s continuation under socialism. Since one has already presupposed the Market Socialist is also a Communist, then they must also concede that the Dictatorship of the Proletariat is a transitional period from Capitalism into Communism as Lenin described it in Economics and Politics in the Era of the Dictatorship of the Proletariat:
“Theoretically, there can be no doubt that between capitalism and communism there lies a definite transition period which must combine the features and properties of both these forms of social eeonomy. This transition period has to be a period of struggle between dying capitalism and nascent communism — or, in other words, between capitalism which has been defeated but not destroyed and communism which has been born but is still very feeble.”
In this sense, socialist society is very much indeed a class society, and as Lenin demonstrated there exists class struggle while capitalism as a system is “dying”. We must contrast this with the Stalinist method which vacillates on the issue of class struggle. Until 1936, the Soviet Union under Stalin had stressed the importance of class struggle under socialism. Stalin advocated that as the proletariat consolidated the Dictatorship of the Proletariat and that the construction of socialism advanced, so too would the class struggle against the dispossessed exploiters, that is until 1936 when Stalin stated that:
“The landlord class, as you know, had already been eliminated as a result of the victorious conclusion of the Civil War. As for the other exploiting classes, they have shared the fate of the landlord class. The capitalist class in the sphere of industry has ceased to exist. The kulak class in the sphere of agriculture has ceased to exist. And the merchants and profiteers in the sphere of trade have ceased to exist. Thus all the exploiting classes have now been eliminated.
There remains the working class.
There remains the peasant class.” (I. V. Stalin, “On the Draft Constitution of USSR” contained in “Problems of Leninism”, 1936).
In a similar fashion Enver Hoxha also vacillated on the existence of class struggle under socialism:
“In the People’s Socialist Republic of Albania there are no exploiting classes, private property and the exploitation of man by man have been liquidated and are forbidden.” (The Albanian Constitution 1976)
Hoxha however takes it a step further in his magnus opus Imperialism and the Revolution and denies the role of class struggle within the Communist Party:
“The class struggle in the ranks of the party, as a reflection of the class struggle going on outside the party, has nothing in common with Mao Tsetung’s concepts on the “two lines in the party”. The party is not an arena of classes and the struggle between antagonistic classes, it is not a gathering of people with contradictory aims. The genuine Marxist-Leninist party is the party of the working class only and bases itself on the interests of this class. This is the decisive factor for the triumph of the revolution and the construction of socialism.” (Enver Hoxha, “Imperialism and the Revolution”, 1978)
In contrast to Stalin and Hoxha, Mao recognized that the bureaucratization of the Party as well as the method in which socialism was implemented produced considerable alienation between the Party and masses. This in turn raised the real possibility of a bourgeoisie forming from within the Party. Otherwise how else does one explain the rise of figures like Khrushchev, Gorbachev and Yeltsin? How does one explain a Ramiz Alia. who presided over the transition to capitalism in Albania?
To reiterate, this demonstrates the transitional nature of the Dictatorship of the Proletariat(which should serve as being synonymous with socialism), and will also show that a major error committed by many(and not just the revisionists) in the belief that socialism to be a mode of production distinct from capital. In this manner as well the Market Socialists believe they are operating in a new mode of production distinct from free market capitalism.
Returning to Balibar we see him describe this mode of thinking as “utopian”, for how is it “possible to move immediately from capitalism to the classless society, or to imagine that classes can exist without class struggle, that class relations can exist without being antagonistic.”?
That is not to say that socialism is an exploitative system as he is quick to point out:
“Socialism is not a new mode of exploitation (whatever some may think). Nor is it a mode of production without exploitation and without classes: it can only be grasped as a period of transition.”
With this in mind, can we say that Market Socialism is making this advance and transitioning into communism? No, for it places the importance of the law of value and exchange as the main motive in the socialist economy, rather than a transition to eliminate it. Is a central planned economy also apart of the markers of a “socialist mode of production”? No, the central planned economy serves not as an expression of a socialist mode of production but as a means to collectivize distribution and to expand the means of production to eliminate scarcity, and thus lay the foundations for communism.
To come to the answer we must contrast this socialist transitional stage which Lenin describes in State and Revolution as:
“The socialist principle, ‘He who does not work shall not eat’, is already realized; the other socialist principle, ‘in equal amount of products for an equal amount of labor’, is also already realized. But this is not yet communism, and it does not yet abolish ‘bourgeois law’, which gives unequal individuals, in return for unequal (really unequal) amounts of labor, equal amounts of products.”
To the communism which Marx describes in the Critique of the Gotha Program:
“In a higher phase of communist society, after the enslaving subordination of the individual to the division of labor, and therewith also the antithesis between mental and physical labor, has vanished; after labor has become not only a means of life but life’s prime want; after the productive forces have also increased with the all-around development of the individual, and all the springs of co-operative wealth flow more abundantly—only then can the narrow horizon of bourgeois right be crossed in its entirety and society inscribe on its banners: From each according to his ability, to each according to his needs!“
Here we demonstrate that Marx and Lenin recognized the elimination of exchange and the law of value as an important factor for the successful transition into communism. There is no possibility for market socialism to do any of these two things, it is not for the elimination of the law of value, but rather it’s ossification; as such it is trending in the opposite direction.
Given these facts, it is curious to see anyone declare China to be socialist. China’s market reforms have been going on since the late 1970s, for over 30 years now. This is not temporary, and shows no sign of slowing down. The Chinese revisionists are relying on the economic determinist Theory of the Productive Forces, the same as Trotsky and Liu Shao-chi. They are overemphasizing economic development as a factor in advancing socialism, both of which came under criticism from Mao.
China is led by a “Communist” Party headed by corrupt right opportunists. Those who hold China to be socialist will obviously disagree so let us for argument’s sake accept that these propositions are false, and that the People’s Republic of China is a Dictatorship of the Proletariat, and led by a healthy Communist Party. We shall even say that the turn to capitalism is “no different” than Lenin’s New Economic Policy if they so wish. If we accept this how can we reconcile it with the dialectic/reciprocal relationship between the base and superstructure? At some point in time the economic base does influence the superstructure and vice versa, in this case the Communist Party. With this in mind how is it that our defenders of China find it so hard to believe that China is indeed a capitalist state or even if we unnecessarily moderate our position, would it not be understandable to say it is trending towards this? Seeing as how this process has been going on for over 30 years now. Would it not make sense that this base has influenced the superstructure to a large extent? This is assuming that those who adhere to the notion of a socialist China can be honest in applying dialectics in the base and superstructure of Chinese society.
As such since we have so far demonstrated that the Market Socialists, cannot be for the elimination of the law of value or exchange but rather for ossifying both. We have also demonstrated that it cannot be used as an “alternative” to transition into a stateless and classless society since in ossifying this it shows no movement towards distributing goods based on need. To do this would be frankly impossible, nevertheless we will not see an end to the theoretical contortions the opportunists are willing to engage in and how much of the basic tenets of Marxism they are willing throw out to justify their Procrustean revisionism.